By MARK KENNEDY
The hit play “To Kill a Mockingbird” is busting out of Broadway — and dunking at Madison Square Garden.
For one night only in February, the stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s iconic book will be performed exclusively for 18,000 public school children free of charge at the home of the New York Knicks and Rangers, The Associated Press has learned.
The move marks the first time a Broadway play has been performed at the venue nicknamed “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” which has hosted concerts by the Beatles and Billy Joel, boxing bouts between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali and “The Concert for Bangladesh” in 1971.
The play’s usual Broadway home is the 1,435-seat Shubert Theatre, where it is routinely sold out and commands an average ticket price of $162. But on Feb. 26, thousands of middle and high school students from all five boroughs will get to see it for free, courtesy of the Scott Rudin-led production and James L. Dolan, the executive chairman and CEO of The Madison Square Garden Company. The tickets are being distributed by the city’s education department.
The entire current Broadway cast will be present, led by Ed Harris as Atticus Finch. Harris told The AP he was thrilled by the prospect, especially with such a powerful play.
“It is also an honor to be performing ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in front of thousands of New York City school kids. We know it will be a once-in-a-lifetime event — for all of us,” he said.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has been widely praised as a sensitive portrait of racial tension in 1930s Alabama. Finch is a lawyer called upon to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
The stage adaptation is directed by Bartlett Sher and written by Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin’s other plays include “A Few Good Men” and “The Farnsworth Invention.” He won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for his screenplay for “The Social Network.” His films include “Steve Jobs” and “Moneyball.”
“This is a one-of-a-kind event — 18,000 young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to see a Broadway play are going to be introduced to American theater,” Sorkin said. “Scott, Bart and our cast, Jim Dolan and Madison Square Garden and the Department of Education are bringing the mountain to Mohammed — and I’m very excited to be a part of it.”
Sorkin’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” adaptation crackles with energy and his trademark soaring language that made hits of “The Newsroom” and “The West Wing.” For the stage, he cut the undergrowth of minor characters from Lee’s book and enhanced others, particularly the maid Calpurnia and Tom Robinson, the man falsely accused of rape.